20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. 21 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. 23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. 25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. 26 Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing. (Matt 5:20-26)
All religions of the world, except Christianity, are works based religions. Islam is strictly legalistic. Buddhism requires much meditation in order to become part of the great universal self (whatever that is), and Hinduism requires the adherent to satisfy the whims of many, many different gods and goddesses.
But the religion of Christ is not works based. It is not what you DO that will gain heaven. It is what you have believed and accepted, through Grace, that will get you there.
Our own personal conduct will never be righteous enough to spend eternity in the presence of a Holy God. Men and governments have proven time and again to be incapable of a sustaining righteousness.
Blaise Pascall: Frenchman (died 1662) who was the greatest physicist and mathematician ever to live. He later became a priest.
Pascall offered a wager (bet) called Pascall’s Wager, in which he argued that it was foolish and unreasonable to believe there was no God. His Wager became the first contribution to decision and probability theory in history.
Here is his wager:
1) If you do not believe in God and there is no God, you have lost nothing.
2) If you do not believe in God, and there IS a God, you have lost everything.
3) If you believe there is a God and there is no God, you have lost nothing.
4) If you believe there is a God, and there truly is a God, you have gained all.
There is no possibility to win if you do not believe in God – at best you would break even if there were no God.
There is no possibility to lose if you believe in God and there IS a God. The worst possible outcome would be to break even if there is no God.
This Wager proposition is the first application in history of probability and decision theory.
Pascall could have added more detail to make his theory complete. Simple belief that God exists is not enough, one must believe on all the attributes of God (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) And he must accept the authority of God in his life.
Now we will come to today’s devotion from the Gospel of St Matthew which is a selection from His Sermon on the Mount –
“For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” The scribes and Pharisees attempted to keep the letter of the law. This they attributed to righteousness, however, their hearts were dark with envy, power, and intrigue. Their righteousness was not of a good character, but of the outward appearance. True righteousness springs from a heart devoted to God and full of love for Him and His Creatures.
Our righteous works are nothing apart from our love in Christ. Of our own strength, we could never attain to the righteousness of God. The righteousness of a Christian is not his own, but is the imputed righteousness of Christ which makes him righteous before God.
Christ is now about to a stricter interpretation of the law than previously considered or understood: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment.” This penalty of the law is still in force as are all the other Commandments of God, however, Christ adds a new dimension: “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” First note the authority with which Christ speaks as the Judge and Lawgiver! He explains the deeper application of the law:
It is the heart that is judged and not the outward appearance. Only God can see the deep chambers of our hearts. Even we, ourselves, are often oblivious to what evil lurks in our heart – but God sees and He knows the means by which our hearts can be made clean and righteous. Our intent to kill is the same as the action itself in the eyes of God. Hate is our hearts is synonymous with murder! Christ provides three examples of progressive judgmental authority: 1) the judgment (lowest and first level of judgment at the time in Jewish courts). 2) the Council which was the Sanhedrin which sat at Jerusalem, and 3) Hell fire relates to the valley of Hinnom, a valley in which the Jews in time past had sacrificed their sons and daughters to the fiery arms of Molech by placing them in his red-hot arms until they fell into the hot fire beneath the idle. God has warned not to allow our children to pass through the fire to Molech. In later days, some records indicate that a continual fire was allowed to burn in this valley to consume the waste and carrion of Jerusalem. This reference by Christ to hell fire represents the final and full judgment of the wicked.
“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee, Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” Therefore, or in view of, the previous statement, Christ issues this serious counsel. There is not room in the heart for both hate and love, for righteousness and unrighteousness. Therefore, when you give your alms to God, or His creatures, do so with a clear conscience. If any man has a grievance against you, settle that first, and then go with your gift to the altar. It is much more possible to be reconciled to God when we are reconciled to our neighbors.
“Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.” Be prompt to settle disputes with others before they escalate into more serious offences. This applies as well to the confession of sins. Do not go to bed on your anger, and confess promptly to God your sins lest you perish prematurely and have no resort but hell. Confession removes walls between a man and heaven, and it is a continual process. Failure to confess a forgotten sin will not necessarily condemn a person to hell, but it will obscure our vision and service to God.
Many Christians may forget that, since sins are freely forgiven, that there remains a scar which our sins may cause. David suffered the death of Bathsheba’s firstborn because of sin. Our sins hurt ones we love, and even after God has forgiven them, the image of hurt remains.“Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.” Here Christ is revealing that, though there may exist a wrong between man and man, there is always a third and higher authority than any earthly court of law, involved. God will exact a penalty for all sin. “The wages of sin is death.” This would be a terminal indictment against man were it not for the sentence which follows: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
So, if the wages of sin is death, and we have ALL sinned, how may we pay the sin debt? We cannot! But Someone else did! Jesus Christ died in our stead on the cross for us to pay the debt we owe. “1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: 4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)